India's history of rich religious pluralism is under increasing peril from a rising tide of Hindu nationalism, with international leaders expressing fears about the country "splitting along religious lines," writes Zoya Hasan.
India's sixteenth general election, held in April and May 2014, represented a tectonic shift in Indian politics. For the first time since independence, India elected a right-wing, Hindu nationalist, party to power with an absolute majority. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) became the dominant force of Indian politics, backed by a decisive and unprecedented, 'majoritarian' mandate, as Narendra Modi led the BJP to a sensational win. Its victory was so complete that it captured all or most of the seats in some states and reduced the Indian National Congress Party to 44 of the 543 seats in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of the Indian Parliament, a shocking comedown for a party whose history is integral to India's founding narrative. Coupled with the near obliteration suffered by parties on the left, it is easy to conclude that for now the centrist, secular and progressive voices have lost out. In immediate terms, the Indian polity stands redefined. With a BJP-led government in power, the Indian right now occupies centre stage and commands the national government. Pratul Sharma, "The Indian Right Arrives in Official Policy Prime," The Sunday Standard, 7 December 2014, http://www.newindianexpress.com/thesundaystandard/The-Indian-Right-Arriv....
One important feature of this election is the BJP's successful consolidation of the Hindu vote in a whole range of constituencies, especially northern and northwestern India. The other side to Hindu consolidation is the political marginalisation and eclipse of Muslims. No political party has previously come to power by excluding Muslims so completely. Arvind Rajagopal, "Indian Democracy and Hindu Populism: The Modi Regime," Social Text, 26 February 2015, http://socialtextjournal.org/periscope_article/indian-democracy-and-hind.... The BJP does not have a single MP from the Muslim community; the representation of Muslims has fallen to an all time low, only four per cent of the members of the new Lok Sabha are Muslim, the lowest representation in the history of any Indian Parliament. The fact that India's largest minority community does not have an effective voice in its elected assemblies does not augur well for India's pluralism.
The BJP's rise to power was heavily supported by the Indian diaspora community.
Modi's success was due largely to widespread disillusionment with the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), the center-left coalition that had ruled the country for two terms from 2004 to 2014, led by the Congress Party. A loss of public faith in the UPA government resulting from endless corruption scandals, incompetent handling of issues like inflation, and complacency in the face of mounting public discontent shaped the specific context for the rise to power of the BJP. But more than anything else, it was Modi's well crafted, resource rich, aggressive, and single-minded campaign, bankrolled by corporate India and heavily supported by the Indian diaspora community, which defined the 2014 election as an election for change, and Modi as an answer to India's problems of poor governance and weak leadership. "NRI Indians are BJP's biggest donor," 26 February 2014, http://indianexpress.com/article/cities/ahmedabad/nri-indians-are-bjps-b...
Modi was not just riding anti-UPA anger; as a polarising figure he actually ignited this anger by pushing a politics of antagonism and confrontation. The grassroots efforts of 45,000 nationwide branches of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) played a decisive role in favour of Modi through a massive mobilisation of Hindus, urging and motivating them to come out and vote against the UPA, which it was determined to push out of power.
The BJP's takeover of the national government in May 2014 allowed the Sangh Parivar, the umbrella group of Hindu nationalist organisations that includes the BJP, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), to entrench itself in state power. Sangh Parivar refers to the constellation of Hindu nationalist organisations started by members of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and inspired by its ideas of Hindu nationalism. The Sangh Parivar has an estimated membership numbering in the millions, making it one of the largest voluntary associations in India. South Asia Citizens Web, "Hindu Nationalism in the United States: A Report on Nonprofit Groups," 1 July 2014, http://www.sacw.net/article9057.html These organisations receive substantial social and financial support from its US based wings: Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS), Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America (VHPA), Sewa International USA, and Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation-USA. The BJP has close links with these organisations, a relationship that helped the party fundraise in the US for a Modi victory. While they differ in tactics and strategy, they all embrace majoritarianism, are grounded in the philosophy and the pursuit of Hindutva ('Hindu-ness'), and feature prominently on the national political scene since the BJP's 2014 victory. They support the assimilation of Hindu culture and traditions into state policies and institutions, and generally oppose the secular agenda of the Congress and other non-BJP parties.
These organisations are the direct descendants of political tradition dating from the pre-independence period that had sought to anchor Indian nationalism in Hindu ethno-religious identity. Its origins go back to the early days of British colonialism, which saw the emergence, not just of Hindu nationalism, but the construction of Hinduism as it is known today. Despite its development and growth, Hindutva played no significant role in either the freedom struggle or in creating the secular constitution of independent India. During the first four decades after independence in 1947, the BJP was unable to gain substantial political influence. It met with stiff resistance in the 1950s and 1960s; it was blocked by the dominant political forces, the political left and liberal middle classes, from influencing the state away from secularism and state-led economic development. The BJP failed to gain any momentum because of an overwhelming consensus in favour of secularism and civic nationalism.
Post-independence India was originally based on civic, not ethnic, identity.
The post-independence concept of India as a nation was originally based on civic rather than ethnic identity. Independent India's founders resolved to build a democracy that would not be engulfed by competing identities – religious, ethnic, caste or linguistic–and indeed much of its progress in its first 50 years was closely tied to its preservation of pluralism and cultural breadth. In this sense, India set itself apart from Pakistan–which effectively committed itself to being a state for Muslims–by adopting secularism and pluralism as its governing platform. The first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, garnered support for his ruling Congress Party by building a consensus on the goals of economic development and social transformation. He believed in composite nationalism and scrupulously avoided defining the nation in terms of the majority community. The secular consensus held dominant sway over public life well beyond the Nehru era, meeting serious challenge only in the late 1980s.This coincided with an erosion of the Congress Party model of centrist accommodation of the earlier decades, largely because of its failure to reconcile universal citizenship with specific identities. The breakdown of this consensus paved the way for the emergence of the BJP's brand of politics, as increasing numbers of middle-class Hindus bought into the idea that the Hindu majority had been denied its due dominance of the public sphere. To them, the enshrinement of secularism as India's governing doctrine had not given enough political space for the affirmation of a Hindu identity, and it regarded secularism as little more than a proxy for anti-Hindu politics.
Contemporary Hindu nationalism has been shaped by several important events in the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s. The defining moment of the BJP's rise to power came in 1992, with the destruction of the Babri Mosque, a centuries-old mosque in the city of Ayodhya in northern India, that many Hindus believe is the birthplace of Lord Rama, one of the most important gods in the Hindu religion. In 1992, a Hindu mob tore down the mosque, demanding that a temple to Lord Rama be built there instead. The riots that followed killed thousands of people across the country and displaced even more in the aftermath of the violence. Although the BJP officially distanced itself from the destruction and the orgy of violence that followed, many party leaders were later implicated in a 2009 Government of India report for incitement.
Between 1992 and 1998, the BJP and other Sangh Parivar members took advantage of the crumbling secular fabric of the country to advance their Hindutva agenda. India's move towards economic liberalisation during this period brought high growth and prosperity to the largely Hindu middle class; however, the substantial Muslim minority was not a significant beneficiary of this massive economic growth, and the community fell further behind its Hindu counterpart. The displacement after the riots of the 1990s also resulted in a "ghettoisation" of the Muslim minorities as they were placed further and further outside of the main cities. Local, regional Hindu parties started to exercise their muscle and influence. During this period the Hindu national groups started to play on the fears of the Hindu minorities by alleging that the Christian and Muslim minorities were trying to increase their numbers by converting Hindus to their faith in an attempt to alter the demographics of the country. In 1998, the BJP was elected to power for the first time (although without an absolute majority such as in 2014). Four years later, in 2002, communal tensions again exploded when over a thousand Muslims were massacred in the state of Gujarat after a train of Hindu pilgrims to Ayodhya was attacked. At the time, Narendra Modi was Chief Minister of the state, and was widely accused of not doing enough to prevent the massacre.
The BJP has consistently identified itself as Hindu nationalist.
The BJP has consistently identified itself as a Hindu nationalist party that seeks to promote the idea of India as an essentially Hindu nation and for the Hindu people. Followers of this ideology claim that India has been Hindu since time immemorial, and the edicts laid down by the ancient sages represent the core of Indian civilisation. A movement toward Hinduising society and advancing the political and social primacy of Hindus has continued to gain ground in India and diasporic communities since the mid- to late-1980s.
Efforts to make India a Hindu country are not a new phenomenon in Indian political life, yet, despite its 1998 government, the BJP did not have the power or the heft until the 2014 electoral mandate to pose a serious challenge to secularism or communal harmony. The spectacular success of the BJP in these recent elections has radically changed the situation to the advantage of the BJP. Pointing to the growing presence of the Hindu nationalist coalition, the Sangh Parivar in the political sphere, Seshadri Chari, former editor of the Organizer - the official magazine of the RSS - wrote that Hindus have always been a majority in India but the manifestation of majoritarianism has been previously reflected in the cultural and social field, observing that "Now it is reflected in the politics of the country. A large number of foot soldiers in the RSS-BJP do believe that political Hinduism has arrived." Seshadri Chari quoted in Saba Naqvi, "Numerocracy," Outlook, 25 Aug 2014, http://www.outlookindia.com/article/numerocracy/291679. Indeed, the RSS has used this opportunity to create a Hindu rashtra (a Hindu state). Setting the tone for this political agenda the RSS chief, Mohan Bhagwat, has repeatedly affirmed that India is a Hindu country. He declared that "India is a Hindu state and citizens of Hindustan should be known as Hindus." RSS Chief Does it Again, Says 'Hindutva is the Identity of Our Nation'," http://www.ndtv.com/india-news/rss-chief-does-it-again-says-hindutva-is-..., Accessed 17 April 2015.
The Indian constitution came into effect on 26 January 1950. The Congress had the words "socialist" and "secular" written into the Preamble of the constitution in 1976 to emphasize the importance of these concepts to the Indian nation. In the lead-up to the 2015 Republic Day celebrations, the BJP government placed an advert in a national newspaper that including the original version of the constitution's Preamble, which excluded both words. The government faced severe criticism for this omission, but said that it was commemorating the original Preamble and not the one that is currently used. To make matters worse, in the aftermath of the controversy the Minister of Communications and Information Technology, Ravi Shankar Prasad asked for a debate on whether the words "socialist" and "secular" should be included, fuelling speculation that the BJP wants to officially end decades of secular policy. Secularism has been pivotal to post-independence India, binding all communities together as equal citizens in the eyes of constitution. "'Secular' Missing in Government Ad: Let's Debate it, Says Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad," http://www.ndtv.com/india-news/secular-missing-in-government-ad-lets-deb..., last updated 29 January 2015 In the S.R. Bommai case, the Supreme Court held that "secularism is an integral part" of the constitution's basic structure. "With or without the amended Preamble, the Indian Constitution will remain secular but the dropping of the word would send a disconcerting signal to the minorities of the country." http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/bengaluru/Trend-setting-judgment...
The 1947 partition between Pakistan and India wrenched apart entire communities and saw the countries' traditionally harmonious societies descend into brutal violence drawn along religious lines, leaving thousands dead. Many argue that the effects of partition are still being felt today. William Dalrymple, "The Great Divide," The New Yorker, http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/06/29/the-great-divide-books-dalr..., 29 June 2015 More recently, communal conflict in India has been on the rise since the early 1990s. Incidences of violence started right from the day of counting of votes on 16 May 2014, when two mosques were attacked near Mangalore in Karnataka and continued through attacks on Muslims in Pune, conflicts in Hyderabad, riots in Saharanpur and other incidences of tensions and conflicts in different parts of the country.
Religious minorities have been subject to derogatory comments by Hindu nationalist leaders.
A series of communal speeches and political rhetoric has further vitiated relations between communities. Religious minorities have been subject to derogatory comments by leaders of the BJP, RSS, and VHP for decades, such remarks have been more frequent since 2014. One minister said at a public meeting in Delhi that "the people of Delhi need to decide if they want a government of 'ramzadon' (followers of Ram) or a government of 'haramzadon'(bastards)." http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/union-minister-spell... Some individuals in the Sangh Parivar have previously proposed disenfranchising the Muslim community, after accusations of bloc voting. "Muslims are used as vote bank, scrap their voting rights says Shiv Sena,"The Indian Express, 13 April 2015, http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/not-against-muslim-v.... This language and sentiment is commonly used by the Hindutva parties to rally their base. Aakar Patel, "The Hindutva brigade's hate campaign," The Express Tribune with the International Herald Tribune, 14 December 2014, http://tribune.com.pk/story/802829/the-hindutva-brigades-hate-campaign/. Facing a strong attack inside and outside Parliament for such statements, Modi has expressed general disapproval for such language, but there has been no action taken against anyone.
The RSS/VHP has also launched a campaign to end a phenomenon it calls 'love jihad,' a phrase used to describe an alleged Muslim strategy to convert young Hindu women by luring them into marriage under false pretenses. The Hindu nationalist groups fear that women will then give birth to Muslim children, thereby increasing the Muslim population and changing the demography of the country. "'Love jihad' in India and one man's quest to prevent it," 29 January 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jan/29/love-jihad-india-one-man-qu.... Love jihad has been cited as a justification in some instances for Hindu nationalists to "reconvert" these women back to Hinduism, and to polarise votes along communal lines to consolidate the support of the larger Hindu community.
The Modi government marked its first Christmas in office by asking government civil servants to work, despite it being an official holiday, to help rebrand the festival as Good Governance Day. "Centre to celebrate 'Good Governance Day' on Christmas," 23 December 2014. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/delhi/Centre-to-celebrate-Good-G... Attacks on Christians have intensified, and congregations and churches were targets of mob violence in dozens of cases in Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. In several cases, during late-night attacks, Christian crosses were swapped for Hindu deities. In February 2015, Modi condemned violence against any religion during a speech at a Christian function where he committed his government to cracking down on religious intolerance, and appealed to Indians to respect the values of tolerance that are enshrined in the Indian constitution. Analysts have suggested these comments were a direct response to remarks made by President Obama during his visit to India in January in which he said that India would only succeed if it didn't "splinter along religious lines." Sandhya Gupta, "India's Concerning 'Saffron' Tide," Centre on Religion & Geopolitics, 7 April 2015, http://tonyblairfaithfoundation.org/religion-geopolitics/commentaries/op...
Tensions between Hindu and Christian and Muslim communities often centre on the issue of forced conversions. Several organisations affiliated to the Sangh Parivar, notably the VHP, have embarked since June 2014 on reinvigorated and highly visible reconversion drives or ghar wapsi campaigns. The RSS chief himself has endorsed ghar wapsi and declared India to be a Hindu rashtra (state). According to him, this is not conversion but the return of "maal (goods) stolen by a thief," representing a "homecoming" designed to "return" non-Hindus to the fold. "RSS leader Mohan Bhagwat justifies 'ghar wapsi', says will bring back our brothers who have lost their way," 21 December 2014, http://indianexpress.com/article/india/politics/bhagwat-dares-oppn-says-.... More than 80 per cent of Indians are Hindu, but the Hindutva goal is a country that is 100 per cent Hindu. "Modi 300 Days – Documenting Hate and Communal Violence under the Modi Regime," 17 April 2015, http://www.milligazette.com/news/12034-modi-300-days-documenting-hate-an....
Anti-conversion laws have particularly affected Christians and Muslims.
While reconversion of Christians and Muslims has always been a part of the ideological programme of the Hindu right, BJP leaders have turned the debate over this latest round of conversions into an opportunity to revive the demand for a national-level anti-conversion law. "Modi Decides to Reactivate Anti-Conversion Law," 17 September 2014, http://archive.indianexpress.com/news/modi-decides-to-reactivate-anticon.... Seven states, including Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Orissa, and Rajasthan, have enacted anti-conversion laws since the 1960s. By reviving the debate at a national level while having an absolute majority, the BJP has further deepened the fears of religious minorities. Effectively, these laws have targeted Christian and Muslim communities, providing opportunities for local officials and Hindu organisations to pursue them for the purpose of re-conversion to Hinduism.
Tensions over the national and religious identity of India have also been played out in cultural and educational fields. Since gaining its historic electoral mandate, the BJP and its allies within the Sangh Parivar have worked to exert greater influence over the historic national narrative within education curricula. This focus has at times been perceived to be a higher priority for the government than developing and implementing much needed institutional reforms within education.
Under the present Hindutva dispensation at the national level and in several states, reforms have been pushed through that emphasise Hindu nationalist interpretations of India's past which is being assiduously remodelled to bring it closer to the Sangh Parivar's grandiose myths about India's ancient history. Acutely aware of the failures of the right wing intelligentsia to provide a credible account of India's past and present, the Sangh Parivar has attempted to reorganise educational syllabi to reflect a historical narrative perceived by non-Hindu nationalists to be a composite of mythology and Hindu religious texts, as well as appropriating conservative icons from the Congress party's history to compensate for its own lack of participation in the freedom struggle. The larger Sangh Parivar agenda includes substantive changes both to the content of education and appointments in prestigious institutions. There are plans within the Parivar to advocate for common syllabi in universities.
Since the BJP's victory in May 2014, there have been instances of censorship of books and films that pose a challenge to Hindutva views in an atmosphere of growing intolerance. "Writers and Historians Fear for India's Free Speech as a Resurgent Hindu Nationalism Uses Law to Bring Publishers to heel," 8 June 2014, http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/news/writers-and-h.... In June 2014, publisher Orient BlackSwan announced that it was suspending publication of several titles in response to a legal letter from the Shiksha Bachao Andolan ("Committee to Save Education"), an organisation founded by Dinanath Batra, an RSS ideologue. Among the titles being set aside was Communalism and Sexual Violence: Ahmedabad Since 1969 by historian Megha Kumar, whose work looks at the incidence of sexual violence during three communal clashes in that city. Orient BlackSwan was following the lead of Penguin India, which, after a three year legal challenge by Batra had voluntarily decided in April 2014 to withdraw copies of The Hindus: An Alternative History by Wendy Doniger, a professor at the University of Chicago. Penguin cited among other reasons a "duty to protect its employees against threats and harassment." "Narendra Modi the 100 day report. Modi and the Politics of Culture," 19 April 2015, www.modifacts.org/culture.
One of the most significant features of Modi's term in office so far has been the energy and focus he has brought to foreign policy. In the first year since his election, Modi visited 19 countries, ranging from India's neighbours to countries as far away as Australia and Brazil. Despite being a frequent traveller to world capitals, the fulcrum of Modi's foreign policy remains Pakistan and Kashmir. Modi certainly broke with the past by inviting Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (and other South Asian leaders) to his swearing-in ceremony in May 2014, but then undermined this by calling off high-level talks after the Pakistani High Commissioner held a meeting with separatists in Kashmir (a standard process that has taken place before every Indo-Pakistan meeting in the past). This stance confirms that Modi will react more strongly to perceived provocations from Pakistan than his predecessors.
BJP foreign policy is an extension of its domestic concerns.
The BJP government's foreign policy is, in fact, an extension of its domestic concerns and not a separate entity. In most of Modi's foreign engagements, both the government and the media have converged on a single message: India has arrived on the world stage. Much of the BJP's foreign policy thus appears to be particularly rooted in Hindutva ideological themes of strength and leadership. Party ideologues are convinced that India punches below its weight globally. In keeping with the Hindutva ideology's historical focus on building a powerful India, the focus of the Modi government's foreign policy remains on India becoming a major global player. He has already signalled a tougher line on ongoing border disputes with China and has said he wants to see a 'strong' India that cannot be 'stared down' by other powers.
In this context, the BJP government is looking at the huge diaspora population as a valuable component of India's foreign policy to influence international opinion and policy on India. The BJP has traditionally had close ties with Indians abroad as part of its vision of a grand Indian civilisation with a global footprint. When the party was previously in power, it launched an ambitious annual event called Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (Overseas Indian Day) in 2003. However, Modi's affinity for the diaspora is not just strategic, but also personal. In 2005, the US government denied him a visa on the grounds that he had committed "severe violations of religious freedom" when he failed to stop Hindu-Muslim riots in 2002 when he was the Chief Minister of Gujarat. It was only after Modi became the prime minister that he could visit the US. But during the years of visa denial, diaspora Indians were his most ardent advocates. Modi's political emergence, and his articulation of a special role for the diaspora in India's rise, has generated enthusiasm within diaspora communities, many of whom actively participated in his election campaign. On the other hand, several foreign policy experts have noted that communal disharmony, especially along religious lines, could divide the diaspora and complicate the conduct of foreign policy with the very countries that host large overseas communities. Also, Modi's high-profile engagement and direct appeal to the diaspora could generate anxieties in some developing countries in Asia and the Africa, which might feel threatened by Indian outreach to their ethnic Indian citizens and residents. C Raja Mohan and Rishika Chauhan, "Modi's Foreign Policy: Focus on the Diaspora," Institute of South Asian Studies, 11 April 2015, http://www.isn.ethz.ch/Digital-Library/Publications/Detail/?lang=en&id=1....
This government also faces considerable challenges in managing local aspects of its rise to power, especially in areas of either a Muslim majority or a very sizable Muslim minority population. The Kashmir Valley saw a violent insurgency and uprising in the 1990s and has experienced low-level conflict ever since, and is the subject of dispute between India and Pakistan and has a 97 per cent Muslim majority population. Both India and Pakistan have territorial claims over the region that have roots in the Partition of the two countries in 1947. The state of Jammu and Kashmir is bound to the Indian nation through a special constitutional article - Article 370 - that allows the state to retain some degree of autonomy while handing over powers of defence, communication and other national security aspects to India. Since 1947, India has been increasing its hold over Jammu and Kashmir both militarily and politically, which resulted in a local uprising that started in 1989 by the majority Muslim population to reclaim the state as its own. As the rhetoric descended into the Hindu state versus the local Muslim population and local Hindus found themselves the victims of attacks, the vast majority of Hindus left the Kashmir Valley seeking shelter elsewhere.
Conflict in Kashmir represents a clash of competitive nationalisms, both religious and secular.
Both India and Pakistan have turned the Kashmir conflict into a site of competitive nationalisms, both religious and secular. It is difficult for the BJP government to provide a way out of the impasse on Kashmir. Some within the BJP believe the only answer is the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution and Kashmir's full incorporation into the Indian Union. The BJP's hardline posture on Pakistan, especially the latter's encouragement of cross-border militancy in Kashmir makes it doubly difficult for them.
In the run-up to the general elections last year, many BJP leaders publicly called for the abrogation of Article 370 and the full incorporation of Jammu and Kashmir into the Indian polity, a move obviously intended to further alienate the local Muslim population that continues to hold very real grievances against the Indian state. Since coming into power, the BJP has made repeated statements in favour of carving out a separate "homeland" for the Kashmiri Hindus that left during the 1990s (a key voting bloc for the BJP). This has met with very heavy resistance from local Muslims.
Even though Hindutva forces are the least flexible with reference to Kashmir, the BJP formed a government in Jammu and Kashmir in alliance with the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), a soft separatist party, in March 2015. Many commentators believe that such a coalition of extremes is the best chance of having a stable government to pave the way for its greater integration into India. There are others who argue that it is more likely to accentuate the Kashmir-Jammu divide, because the state's governance would be predicated on bringing religious identities to the forefront - not on civic needs of an economically struggling population. A common theme among residents of the Kashmir valley is that if Chief Minister Mufti Sayeed was attempting to bring Kashmiris closer to India, he has actually achieved the opposite by facilitating the entry of the RSS into Kashmir, alienating voters further. On the other hand, it will help Modi to claim that it has co-opted Jammu and Kashmir's Muslims in an "inclusive," "secular" arrangement, which will facilitate their integration.
Muslims outside Kashmir have been generally indifferent to local and external politics in Kashmir; they have stayed away from the anti-India insurgency of their co-religionists in the region. Very few Muslims seem to have heeded the call for jihad in Afghanistan and other Muslim lands; a handful of Indian recruits have reportedly joined up with ISIS in Iraq and Syria but their numbers are small. Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri released a video on 3 September 2014, announcing the establishment of al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), to recruit Muslim youths from India. Media reports indicate that the number of Muslims who responded to this message by joining either AQIS or ISIS ranges from a few dozen to 300. Figures quoted in Tufail Ahmed, "Modi Rule: an Opportunity for Muslims," Open Magazine, 13 October 2014, http://www.openthemagazine.com/article/nation/modi-rule-an-opportunity-f.... Nonetheless, India's media often rushes to blame Muslims for acts of terrorism, sometimes without substantial evidence. Irfan Ahmed, "The (in)visible in Indian terrorism," Al Jazeera English, 16 September 2011, http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2011/09/2011912104910716820.html. This could strengthen efforts to stigmatise and exclude Muslims from political processes, and for the state and media to engage in a process of differentiating 'good Muslims' from 'bad Muslims.' Suchitra Vijayan, "Islamic difference and radicalisation," The Hindu, 7 January 2015, http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/comment-article-islamic-difference....
Despite the fact that Muslims face discrimination and almost all indicators of social development place Muslims below the national average, India has so far been fortunate in avoiding Muslim estrangement from the polity. A secular Constitution and the electoral clout of a sizeable minority has helped give Muslims in India a stake in the political system. Yet, moderation today is not a guarantee that extremism will not arise tomorrow in India. The rise of Hindu nationalism and the overall marginalisation of Muslims could provide opportunities for radical groups within the Muslim community to mobilise. Moreover, the Muslim community's faith in democracy has been tested repeatedly by the state's discrimination in the administration of justice and there is a disproportionate number of Muslims in jails. The Indian Express reports that Muslims constitute only 10.6 per cent of Maharashtra's population, but every third prisoner in the state is a Muslim. In 2013, they constituted 31.1 per cent of the prisoner population in the state compared to 19.06 per cent in India. See report by Zeeshan Shaikh, "Number of Muslims in state jails goes up, state's minority panel commissions TISS survey," The Indian Express, 11 January 2015. Even police officials concede that inherent inequalities in the criminal justice system have limited Muslim access to justice and space to protest peacefully. The 2015 annual report of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) noted that since 2008 "Muslim communities have reported facing undue scrutiny and arbitrary arrests and detentions, which the government justifies by the need to counter terrorism." Muslim youths have also claimed that arbitrary arrests, abuse, and incarceration without adequate evidence follow terror attacks. "US Congress report slams India on religious freedom," 30 April 2015, http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/us-congress-report-slams-india-on-....
There is growing grassroots opposition to the Hindutva social agenda.
Since Modi's inauguration, he has not responded definitively to growing communal interventions and provocative speeches by people and groups related to the BJP and the Sangh Parivar. He refused to spell out his own position and refused to raise his voice against the growing climate of intolerance within his own party and associated groups. His campaign speeches in the Delhi assembly election campaign in January 2015, the prime minister made no mention of communal harmony. When a Christian delegation visited the prime minister at the height of the conversion controversy in December 2014, he reportedly told them that he will not speak on the issue. Anjali Mody, "Obama reminds India that it is secular, even as government's Republic Day ad omits the word," Scroll.in, 27 January 2015, http://scroll.in/article/702700/obama-reminds-india-that-it-is-secular-e.... He did eventually speak out on freedom of religion and equal respect for all religions, but only after the BJP electoral rout in Delhi's February 2015 elections, and after US president Barack Obama warned that India must avoid "splintering on religious lines." "Religious splintering will harm India story, Barack Obama warns Narendra Modi," 27 January 2015, http://www.dnaindia.com/india/comment-religious-splintering-will-harm-in.... A week later at the National Prayer Breakfast, Obama expanded on his push for religious tolerance in India. More recently, the United States Commission for International Religious Freedom's annual report criticised the government's minorities policy, and expressed concern about ghar wapsi incidents in 2014. Taking all this into consideration, India's image as a secular country committed to respecting all faiths has taken a beating.
While analysts consider whether the Modi government can deliver on its progressive promises of development, governance, and, above all, job creation, many fear that the energies of the new government are being diverted in old, divisive issues. There have been a number of alarming developments under the Modi government –reconversions campaigns, denunciation of interreligious marriages as 'love jihad,' and church attacks. The basic issue underlying these controversies is the concerted campaign by groups close to the governing party to redefine the state as Hindu, and Indian citizenship as based on religion and culture, not civic equality that respects diversity and pluralism. Strongly aligned to Hindu sensibilities, there has been a concerted effort by certain groups to create a predominantly Hindutva public sphere that marginalises others. Bharat Bhushan, "PM as pilgrim - or Indianness redefined," Business Standard, 14 August 2014, http://www.business-standard.com/article/opinion/bharat-bhushan-pm-as-pi....
However, growing opposition to the Hindutva social agenda from civil society organisations, NGOs, and the general public indicates the resilience of pluralism in India's democracy. Despite the shift to the right, the centrist tendency remains strong, which was evident from the 31 per cent of votes the BJP polled in 2014 general elections and its stunning defeat in the Delhi Assembly elections in February 2015, which left the BJP with three out of 70 seats. Modi's statement speaking out in favour of religious freedom and the protection of minorities following this electoral rout, suggests that a strong opposition will be important in challenging a political culture that emboldens Hindu nationalism.
First published on 1 July 2015.
The views expressed by this author remain solely their own and are not to be taken as the view of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation.